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      Cocaine in surface waters: a new evidence-based tool to monitor community drug abuse

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          Abstract

          Background

          Cocaine use seems to be increasing in some urban areas worldwide, but it is not straightforward to determine the real extent of this phenomenon. Trends in drug abuse are currently estimated indirectly, mainly by large-scale social, medical, and crime statistics that may be biased or too generic. We thus tested a more direct approach based on 'field' evidence of cocaine use by the general population.

          Methods

          Cocaine and its main urinary metabolite (benzoylecgonine, BE) were measured by mass spectrometry in water samples collected from the River Po and urban waste water treatment plants of medium-size Italian cities. Drug concentration, water flow rate, and population at each site were used to estimate local cocaine consumption.

          Results

          We showed that cocaine and BE are present, and measurable, in surface waters of populated areas. The largest Italian river, the Po, with a five-million people catchment basin, steadily carried the equivalent of about 4 kg cocaine per day. This would imply an average daily use of at least 27 ± 5 doses (100 mg each) for every 1000 young adults, an estimate that greatly exceeds official national figures. Data from waste water treatment plants serving medium-size Italian cities were consistent with this figure.

          Conclusion

          This paper shows for the first time that an illicit drug, cocaine, is present in the aquatic environment, namely untreated urban waste water and a major river. We used environmental cocaine levels for estimating collective consumption of the drug, an approach with the unique potential ability to monitor local drug abuse trends in real time, while preserving the anonymity of individuals. The method tested here – in principle extendable to other drugs of abuse – might be further refined to become a standardized, objective tool for monitoring drug abuse.

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          Most cited references20

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          Pharmaceuticals, Hormones, and Other Organic Wastewater Contaminants in U.S. Streams, 1999−2000:  A National Reconnaissance

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            Occurrence, fate, and removal of pharmaceutical residues in the aquatic environment: a review of recent research data

            The occurrence and fate of pharmaceutically active compounds (PhACs) in the aquatic environment has been recognized as one of the emerging issues in environmental chemistry. In some investigations carried out in Austria, Brazil, Canada, Croatia, England, Germany, Greece, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, The Netherlands, and the U.S., more than 80 compounds, pharmaceuticals and several drug metabolites, have been detected in the aquatic environment. Several PhACs from various prescription classes have been found at concentrations up to the microg/l-level in sewage influent and effluent samples and also in several surface waters located downstream from municipal sewage treatment plants (STPs). The studies show that some PhACs originating from human therapy are not eliminated completely in the municipal STPs and are, thus, discharged as contaminants into the receiving waters. Under recharge conditions, polar PhACs such as clofibric acid, carbamazepine, primidone or iodinated contrast agents can leach through the subsoil and have also been detected in several groundwater samples in Germany. Positive findings of PhACs have, however, also been reported in groundwater contaminated by landfill leachates or manufacturing residues. To date, only in a few cases PhACs have also been detected at trace-levels in drinking water samples.
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              Occurrence of drugs in German sewage treatment plants and rivers1Dedicated to Professor Dr. Klaus Haberer on the occasion of his 70th birthday.1

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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Environ Health
                Environmental Health
                BioMed Central (London )
                1476-069X
                2005
                5 August 2005
                : 4
                : 14
                Affiliations
                [1 ]Department of Environmental Health Sciences, Mario Negri Institute for Pharmacological Research, Via Eritrea 62, 20157 Milan, Italy
                [2 ]Department of Biotechnology and Molecular Sciences, University of Insubria, Via Dunant 3, 21100 Varese, Italy
                Article
                1476-069X-4-14
                10.1186/1476-069X-4-14
                1190203
                16083497
                0370e813-bda5-42cc-8bfb-4953cd5b5d4d
                Copyright © 2005 Zuccato et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.

                This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

                History
                : 5 May 2005
                : 5 August 2005
                Categories
                Research

                Public health
                Public health

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